Sacrilegium, in Roman Catholic theology, is a term denoting contempt of God or of divine and holy things when expressed in act, the utterance of such feeling in speech being characterized by the word blasphemy (q.v.) This crime may be committed either directly against the holiest objects by unworthy partaking of the consecrated bread and wine or otherwise desecrating their character (sacrilegium immediatum); or indirectly against consecrated persons, things, or places (sacrilegium mediatum). The latter form is consequently either personale, incurred through violation of the privilegium canonis, or assault on the persons of individuals belonging to the clerical and monastic orders, SEE PRIVILEGIUM CANONIS, with intent to do bodily harm, or through violations of the law of chastity by persons of rank in such orders (sacrilegium carnale); or it is sacrilegium reale, consisting in the employment of sacred edifices and their decorations, vessels, utensils, etc., for common or even wicked purposes; the purloining of things which have been set apart for the use of a church by consecration or benediction (q.v.), or which have been placed in a church for protection and safe keeping; the alienating from or denying to the Church of legal and customary revenues; the voluntary transfer of objects used in the worship and other services of the Church to the enemies of Christianity, particularly in times of persecution, etc.; and the receiving of any "sacrament of the living" (q.v.) while in a state of mortal sin, and without having previously been absolved: or, lastly, the sacrilegium is locale, and may be committed by consciously violating an ecclesiastical asylum, SEE ASYLUM, by breaking a local interdict (q.v.) with armed force, by desecrating holy places with murder, the guilty spilling of human blood or human sperm, the interment of unbelievers and excommunicated persons in churches and burial grounds belonging to the Church, etc.
The punishments denounced against this crime have been severe under every code. According to the canon law, sacrilege committed against the venerabile itself was visited with the anathema; against other sacred things, with the ban; and in case of obstinate contumacy, with the denial of Christian burial (c. 2, 10, "De Rapt." 5, 17; c. 22, 10," De Sent. Excomm." 5, 39). The Roman law punished robbery of churches, unless mitigating circumstances intervened, with death (Inst. § 9, "De Publ. Jud." 4, 18). The criminal code of Charles V decreed the punishment of death by fire against the theft of a monstrance or a ciborium (q.v.) containing the host, and death in a milder form against the theft of other sacred objects belonging to the altar and used in worship. Plundering an alms chest might be punished by either corporal inflictions or death, and the abstraction of unconsecrated objects from churches and sacristies (unless accompanied with violence or committed at night) by the infliction of penalties denounced upon ordinary burglaries (CC. C. of 1532, art. 172-175). The more recent administration of criminal law in Germany likewise invariably imposes severe penalties upon crimes committed against the Church. Licentiousness on the part of clergymen belonging to the higher orders is punished by suspension and penances; if committed by monks, by confinement and severe penances. The violator of a nun, if a clergyman, is deposed, SEE DEPOSITION; if a layman, is excommunicated; and the nun herself is subjected to close confinement and mortifications of the body (c. 6, 21; c. 27, qu. 1). Under the Roman law the violator of a consecrated female was beheaded (lib. 2, cod. "De Episc. et Cler." 1, 3, Nov. 123, c. 43), and this penalty was retained under the code of the German empire.